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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Sony/BMG has just issued, on a single CD, a supposedly complete version, and of superior sound quality, of The Million Dollar Quartet's informal recording session of 50 years ago this month ( 82876889352; produced by Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Semon).

It seems a bit late in the day to still be misnaming poor ole Lowell Fulson as Fulsom in the composer credits. That said, Colin Escott's notes are thoughtful and illuminating as far as they go, but he doesn't say who's drumming. The implication is that it's Carl Perkins' band drummer - but he might have mentioned it.

Nor does he say whether it's Elvis or Jerry Lee on keyboards at the beginning. It's Elvis at the piano on the iconic photograph from the session (which captures Jerry Lee in his last moment as The New Boy, momentarily possessed of uncharacteristic diffidence)... and I don't think it sounds like Jerry Lee's piano-playing on the first few numbers. Anyway it would surely only have been Elvis who initiated a doodle/attempt at 'Love Me Tender'. What's fascinating (though the notes don't mention this either) is that the pianist hears that 'Love Me Tender' is musically close to 'Jingle Bells', which is why it drifts from the one into the other. (Of course I'd never noticed it previously, but as soon as I heard this recording the other day, the piano made it obvious.)

Terry Kelly (loyal midwife to fanzine The Bridge, which will publish a new issue any day now) tells me that according to Ernst Jorgensen's definitive Elvis Presley: A Life In Music - The Complete Recording Sessions (St Martin's Press, New York, 1998) the drummer is W.S. Holland (who would later play on the Dylan-Cash sessions of 1969). And Peter Guralnick's Last Train to Memphis - The Rise of Elvis Presley has Jerry Lee taking over the piano as from 'There's No Place Like Home' (track 10 out of the 47 on this CD). The other players on the session (left over from the official Carl Perkins recording session of earlier that day) were Clayton Perkins (bass), J.B. Perkins (guitar) and Charlie Underwood (guitar). The young woman to be heard making repertoire requests to Elvis was (briefly) his Las Vegas showgirl girlfriend Marilyn Evans.

But the overwhelming thing is the unstoppable flowing genius of the 20-year-old Elvis Presley here. This is just a jam session - he doesn't care whether the tape is rolling or not - yet he sings so well: so full-bloodedly and unguardedly and yet with such judicious accuracy. How does he manage to be so carefree yet so careful, so respectful of his own talent and of the songs, so authoritative, so inspired, even when at his most workaday? Unsurpassable genius. And if any bonus is required, it's here in Elvis' joyful imitation of Jackie Wilson imitating Elvis on 'Don't Be Cruel' and his funny impersonation of Hank Snow impersonating Ernest Tubb on 'I'm With A Crowd But so Alone'.

Available for well under £10 in the UK. Highly recommended.


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